Fukushima Radiation Danger

SOURCE: Shannon Rudolph (shannonkona@gmail.com)
SUBHEAD: The danger of Fukushima radiation in Hawaii a matter of perspective and politics.  

By Jeff McMahon on 9 July 2011 for Forbes Blogs -  
(http://blogs.forbes.com/jeffmcmahon/2011/07/09/harm-from-fukushima-radiation-a-matter-of-perspective/)


Image above: Chef checks radioactivity of tuna in sushi restaurant. From (http://www.daylife.com/photo/03Z0ehg2Wy5vx?utm_source=zemanta&utm_medium=p&utm_content=03Z0ehg2Wy5vx&utm_campaign=z1).


A leading biophysicist has cast a critical light on the government’s reassurances that Americans were never at risk from Fukushima fallout, saying “we really don’t know for sure.” When radioactive fallout from Japan’s nuclear disaster began appearing in the United States this spring, the Obama Administration’s open-data policy obligated the government to inform the public, in some detail, what was landing here.

Covering the story, I watched the government pursue what appeared to be two strategies to minimize public alarm: It framed the data with reassurances like this oft-repeated sentence from the EPA: “The level detected is far below a level of public health concern.”

The question, of course, is whose concern. The EPA seemed to be timing its data releases to avoid media coverage. It released its most alarming data set late on a Friday—data that showed radioactive fallout in the drinking water of more than a dozen U.S. cities. Friday and Saturday data releases were most frequent when radiation levels were highest.

And despite the ravages newspapers have suffered from internet competition, newspaper editors still have not learned to assign reporters to watch the government on weekends. As a result, bloggers broke the fallout news, while newspapers relegated themselves to local followups, most of which did little more than quote public health officials who were pursuing strategy #1.

For example, when radioactive cesium-137 was found in milk in Hilo, Hawaii, Lynn Nakasone, administrator of the Health Department’s Environmental Health Services Division, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser: ”There’s no question the milk is safe.”

Nakasone had little alternative but to say that. She wasn’t about to dump thousands of gallons of milk that represented the livelihood of local dairymen, and she wasn’t authorized to dump the milk as long as the radiation detected remained below FDA’s Derived Intervention Level, a metric I’ll discuss more below.

That kind of statement failed to reassure the public in part because of the issue of informed consent—Americans never consented to swallowing any radiation from Fukushima—and in part because the statement is obviously false. There is a question whether the milk was safe. In spite of the relative level of Fukushima radiation, which many minimized through comparison to radiation from x-rays and airplane flights—medical experts agree that any increased exposure to radiation increases risk of cancer, and so, no increase in radiation is unquestionably safe.

Whether you choose to see the Fukushima fallout as safe depends on the perspective you adopt, as David J. Brenner, a professor of radiation biophysics and the director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center, elucidated recently in The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists: Should this worry us? We know that the extra individual cancer risks from this long-term exposure will be very small indeed.

Most of us have about a 40 percent chance of getting cancer at some point in our lives, and the radiation dose from the extra radioactive cesium in the food supply will not significantly increase our individual cancer risks. But there’s another way we can and should think about the risk: not from the perspective of individuals, but from the perspective of the entire population. A tiny extra risk to a few people is one thing.

But here we have a potential tiny extra risk to millions or even billions of people. Think of buying a lottery ticket — just like the millions of other people who buy a ticket, your chances of winning are miniscule. Yet among these millions of lottery players, a few people will certainly win; we just can’t predict who they will be. Likewise, will there be some extra cancers among the very large numbers of people exposed to extremely small radiation risks? It’s likely, but we really don’t know for sure. via Fukushima:

What don’t we know?

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. A few people certainly will “win,” which is why it’s so interesting that the EPA’s standard for radionuclides in drinking water is so much more conservative than the FDA’s standard for radionuclides in food. The two agencies anticipate different endurances of exposure—long-term in the EPA’s view, short-term in FDA’s. But faced with the commercial implications of its actions, FDA tolerates a higher level of mortality than EPA does. FDA has a technical quibble with that last sentence. FDA spokesman Siobhan Delancey says:

Risk coefficients (one in a million, two in ten thousand) are statistically based population estimates of risk. As such they cannot be used to predict individual risk and there is likely to be variation around those numbers. Thus we cannot say precisely that “one in a million people will die of cancer from drinking water at the EPA MCL” or that “two in ten thousand people will die of cancer from consuming food at the level of an FDA DIL.” These are estimates only and apply to populations as a whole.

The government, while assuring us of safety, comforts itself in the abstraction of the population-wide view, but from Dr. Brenner’s perspective, the population-wide view is a lottery and someone’s number may come up. Let that person decide whether we should be alarmed.

 

DOH lied about Fukushima danger By Larry Geller on 9 July 2011 for Dissappeared News - (http://www.disappearednews.com/2011/07/forbes-hawaii-doh-lied-about-radiation.html)
So is the Hawaii Department of Health monitoring conditions in Hawaii adequately? Are we being protected?
I followed the reports posted on the DOH web page (here’s the latest and here’s an index page). The reports are not on DOH stationary and are unsigned. Nor do they give details about how the measurements are being taken or what equipment is being used. And the concept of testing catchment or surface water sounds suspicious because a lot of radioactive substance can fall from the sky in a day, say, but become extremely dilute in a large catchment system. Still, it is important to measure our drinking water.
Are these measurements the right ones, and are they being properly carried out?
The DOH documents do not include tables of data nor do they explain the methodology. Holding a Geiger counter up in the air on top of the DOH building in Honolulu would be inadequate, for example.
So I called, and was able to reach someone who explained the details. For example, no, they are not holding up a Geiger counter. The instruments include filters that collect particles from the air over time. The filters are carefully removed and sent off to a laboratory. So any particles would be concentrated in the filters (assuming, I suppose, that the pore size was adequate, but anyway…). Rain water, for example, is collected in an activated carbon filter, so again, particles would be concentrated over time. The filter is then packed up in a special container and shipped to the lab. From the type of radioactive particles discovered in the filters, the radiation can be correctly attributed to Fukushima.
This sounded good to me. My comment was that all this information, along with tables of dates and readings, should be posted on the web. It needs to be official data, preferably with a name and title attached. These unattributed, simplified pdf files just don’t instill confidence.
And we want to form our own conclusion about whether the water or milk is safe to drink. As the Forbes article emphasizes, we can’t just take our government’s word about this because we suspect they are lying to us. More:
Covering the story, I watched the government pursue what appeared to be two strategies to minimize public alarm:
  1. It framed the data with reassurances like this oft-repeated sentence from the EPA: “The level detected is far below a level of public health concern.” The question, of course, is whose concern.
  2. The EPA seemed to be timing its data releases to avoid media coverage. It released its most alarming data set late on a Friday—data that showed radioactive fallout in the drinking water of more than a dozen U.S. cities.
Friday and Saturday data releases were most frequent when radiation levels were highest. And despite the ravages newspapers have suffered from internet competition, newspaper editors still have not learned to assign reporters to watch the government on weekends.
[Forbes: Harm from Fukushima Radiation: A Matter Of Perspective, 7/9/2011]
It shouldn’t be the job of the federal or state governments to minimize public alarm. What we want is to have them use our taxpayer money to make the appropriate measurements and let us know the results. It’s not enough to say “trust me, the milk is safe” because we don’t trust them.
Hawaii’s Department of Health may well be taking the correct measurements, but they are not communicating completely with us, nor can we accept that the milk is safe to drink under the circumstances. That doesn’t mean it isn’t safe to drink, although Forbes does makes that argument (please read the complete article).
Will the DOH agree to more openness and completeness? Don’t hold your breath. While I’m not a fan of privatization, I would prefer that some independent testing laboratory be charged (and paid) to give us an unbiased and disinterested report.
But like I said, don’t hold your breath.
In the meantime, while Hawaii is supposed to be showing off its high tech talents for APEC 2011, Forbes has argued to the world that Lynn Nakasone, in her official capacity as administrator of the Health Department’s Environmental Health Services, and the state government, are not up to the task of alerting the citizens of Hawaii to potential radiation harm from the Fukushima meltdowns.
There is a question whether the milk was safe.
.

2 comments :

  1. In Hawaii, the EPA and the local DOH had announced the deployment of additional fallout monitors, including the North Shore of Kauai. Over recent weeks, private citizens have posted high geiger counter radiation spikes in Hawaii, see: http://www.radiationnetwork.com/Message.htm
    On July 6, after the 3rd spike was posted (with others in Oahu and Maui noting similar spikes) and a pattern of increasing detection was noted, the Hawaii Dept. of Health released a new update, explaining that the EPA and the DOH have removed the additional monitors from those locations permanently, (see their statement here):
    http://hawaii.gov/health/radiation/july06update.pdf
    This means that as private citizens began to note increasing levels of radioactivity, the agencies that claimed they would be posting their results for Hawaii every three months decided to remove their detection equipment after less than the initial three month period. It is an open question now if health risks in Hawaii may actually be on the increase

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  2. Agreed, the data and methodology should be honestly published by the agencies doing the testing. Agency spokespeople and the media can't be trusted to give us a straight answer about the risks--they couldn't even if they wanted to! As you point out, it's simply not possible. Raw data does not contain a risk assessment, and there's no one way to obtain that, so a choice has to be made how to interpret the data.

    However, when you say something like "Let that person decide whether we should be alarmed." you're making a irrational statement because such a person only exists in the abstract. An abstraction "deciding" anything is impossible, so why did you say that?

    We should be monitoring the hell out of the environment for the possibility of something that tells us when and how we need to avoid exposure, but with every channel of information clouding their message with the desire to manipulate their audience will we ever be able to make an informed choice?

    Who will be such a sober voice? It's desperately needed.

    Meanwhile, I have concluded there's no need for alarm or action, just continued vigilance. That's my version of sobriety at this time.

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